Friday, January 14, 2005

Belize: Swimming with Sharks in the Caribbean

Yesterday I did one of the most frightening things I have done in my life. I'll get to that in a moment...

After Guatemala, I made a brief visit to Belize, a small country nestled between Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean with only 250,000 inhabitants. Whereas its neighbours speak Spanish, Belize is officially English-speaking, although most people speak Creole, which is only sort of like the English I know. "Hello" is "Aye Mon", God is "Jah", and "He owns the boat" is "him is wid de boat". In a cafe I talked to a local guy for half an hour, but I barely understood a word. I think he said something about music being good for the soul, and other profound things.

I spent all my time in Belize on Caye Caulker, a sandy island a few kilometres long and only 500 metres across. This is a super-relaxed place. Going without shoes is the norm, the floors in the restaurants are sand, and nobody goes anywhere fast. I don't think anybody could die on this island from a heart attack. It is what your favourite holiday island would be like if it was run by Jamaicans. I stayed in a cabin on the beach, with a perfect sunrise each morning over the sea outside my bedroom window. The only noises at night were from the waves and the wind, which I think is the best way to sleep soundly.

On the last day in Belize I went on a snorkelling trip from Caye Caulker. We were promised that we would see sharks and sting rays. After we snorkelled a bit the boat took us to another location called "Shark-Ray Alley". Here the guide threw some fish overboard, and suddenly sharks were swarming around the boat. The guide assured us that it was safe to go in the water, that these sharks were of a type that wouldn't attack a human, and that the sting rays in the water would only sting if we stepped on them. I knew that if I tried to think rationally about it, I would never get in the water, so remembering that the people in Venezuela had called me "very dangerous", I jumped straight in. Maybe 8 sharks and 3 sting rays were only metres away, and I was both terrified and exhilarated at the same time. I didn't completely throw caution to the wind, because I made sure that at least one other swimmer was always closer to the sharks than me. Try as I could, I couldn't concentrate on details, because I was always on the edge of fear. After we got out of the water people were asking each other, "did you see the eyes on the rays? Did you see the teeth on the shark", and I hadn't noticed any such things. I guess my travel insurance policy wouldn't have covered mutilation after intentionally diving into a pack of sharks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is amazing...I was looking on line about sharks in Belize because I am so afraid!! And to my good fortune there you were talking about the island we are going to in February and we are going to Guatemala as well. Thanks for sharing and if you have any other interesting information you want to share about Caye Caulker then email me at